Extra Life 2016 Thank You (and Bloodborne Impressions)

I've just woken from my post-stream nap after playing 24 hours of Bloodborne live on stream (with only a couple short breaks for food and the restroom). The TL; DR version of what follows is how overwhelmed I was by the support from my friends and the community.

So I originally came up with the idea to stream Bloodborne a few months back. One of my dearest friends and a Soulsborne expert Ally Mushka was really insisting I should give Bloodborne a shot when I joked about it being on-sale. Around the same time, I was debating if I wanted to do anything for Extra Life this year and, if so, what kind of little thing could I do to set myself apart. Ultimately, I picked up the game to appease her as a "maybe someday" and thought of the dollar per death idea. I even asked her how much she thought I'd be out after 24-hours and she looked into a streamer who have recorded his first playthrough. I don't recall if we discussed a number outside of "uh oh..."

But even then, I wasn't committed. I toyed around with making it more giveaway- or stunt-focused (cut my hair off if I reach a certain threshold) but ultimately I turned away from those mostly out of the hassle to organize them. I'm busy enough as is, I didn't have the time and wherewithal to put together a plan (huge shoutout to Irrational Passions, Alex v Bless, and everyone else who DID though). So I came back to the Bloodborne idea. It was simple and easy to manage. But I was also deathly afraid of it.

I'll occasionally be acutely aware of myself when I'm gaming. And when I'm dying a lot on a particularly frustrating section of a game like Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, I will grunt out obscenities I would never even dream of using in mixed company and think to myself, "I would really have to keep my attitude in check if I streamed." So the idea of intentionally streaming a game like Bloodborne and monetizing my suffering was a bit horrifying. When I finally decided to commit to doing it during the big Extra Life Day everyone else had a few weeks back, I was intentionally vague as to when. I didn't even commit to doing 5pm to 5pm until maybe yesterday morning. So I barely marketed the thing, just occasionally saying Friday-Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend sometime.

But despite not sending out a concrete tweet until yesterday, three hours before go time, people came and supported. Last year, I think I had less than a dozen people stop by my stream of The Last of Us and Telltale Game of Thrones over the same days so maybe I was hoping for the same level of obscurity. Last year I set a fundraising goal for $500 and put in a $100 of my own. But I did a crappy job of promoting that one too and ultimately landed at $350. Admittedly, great, but it was also made up of four contributions: me, my parents, my aunt/grandma, and a random amazing philanthropist from my local theatre community who saw like the one public Facebook post I made and decided to support it. So I dropped this year's goal down to $300 (I'm not really in touch with the philanthropist so I figured her gift wouldn't repeat). This seemed manageable and achievable, especially if I REALLY sucked at the game.

As of this writing, my Extra Life donation portal sits at $420. That includes my contributions from the dollar per death commitment ($100 of which I put in up front as a minimum, just like last year, the rest donated immediately after signing off), as well as contributions from a handful of other supporters. It does not yet include the contributions I'm sure my parents and aunt/grandma (that's a joint gift from my aunt and grandmother, not some weird thing I have going on in my family tree by the way) will provide as a Christmas present. That will likely bring in another $100-$150. It also does not include a dollar per death match that I received from Greg Miller, who was incredibly kind to swing by the stream and commit to this morning. When all is said and done, it looks possible that I will have doubled last year's campaign. I am absolutely floored and humbled by that support.

From before I went live to after I signed off, I always had people in the chat being supportive and trying to keep me sane. There were certainly too many to keep track of and I wouldn't want to forget anybody but I saw so many of the incredible friends I've made in the Kinda Funny community swing by and say hi. A huge thank you to people like PlantanoRangerLucidDre4m and vSilentAngel for giving me some expert-level advice, tutorials, and hints, especially in those long early hours. Thank you to another one of my friends and Souls experts Tony Horvath for even hopping on today to help me with one of the bosses so I didn't spend the last 6 hours of my stream bashing my head against a wall. Days like today make me acutely aware how fortunate I am to have made friends across the globe as, even in the early hours or 2 or 3 AM, I had friends in Europe stopping by to wish me well and hang out for a while.

My audience got a healthy boost after Greg stopped by and boosted the signal with a tweet directing people to the last six hours. That, in particular, was the kick I needed to push through. Between really not enjoying the game (which I'll touch on more below) and the long hours, I was ready to throw in the towel early. I thought maybe I'd just double whatever the death count was and call it a day. But the support of everyone for me to keep going and stay strong, even as I started threatening to walk away, was touching and gave me the second wind I needed.  I made it because I had a community rallying around me, even when I didn't think I had the patience or strength to keep going. No, it's not some world-changing moment like in the latest Marvel movie, but the fact that it was a real moment in something as simple as playing a video game for a few more hours for charity was what grounded it and will certainly keep it in my mind as one of the bright moments of this year.

And when all the dust settled, I died 143 times and managed to take six of Bloodborne's bosses with me.

If you contributed, stopped by the stream (even just to lurk), liked or retweeted any of my of progress updates, or even if you're just reading this now and missed the whole thing: thank you. The support I receive is humbling and, at times, overwhelming. And I'm grateful that we had the ability to channel that in some small way toward supporting an incredible cause.

If you'd like to join in with a contribution, you can still do so with a tax-deductible contribution until the end of the year. My page, in particular, is in support of Phoenix Children's Hospital and the great work they do in my community.

Thoughts on Bloodborne After 24 Hours

I went into this event with a health understanding that I probably wouldn't have a great time with this game. The Souls games and Bloodborne are lauded for their difficulty and brutality. They reward the player who is patient and learns its systems to become a better player, rather than rewarding a player just for showing up and going through the motions. I can absolutely appreciate and respect that, but that's not the experience I'm looking for from a game. I looking to gaming for relaxation, not the overwhelming stress a game like this puts on me.

Frustrations were abound throughout my time with the game. Something simple like taking somewhere between 6-8 hours to learn that holding circle allows you to run illustrates this point (and then only because a friend in the chat tells me while I'm throwing my controller in the air in resigned anger after yet another death)*. Admittedly, I fully admit that most of that is on me for not reading an instruction manual or looking at every individual message in the Hunter's Dream (which is where I would assume I would have found that mechanic), but it makes me that much angrier that the game itself decides to "hide" that all-too-common detail away. The overall obtuse-ness of the game's design is not for me. In my normal day-to-day, I just don't have the time. Critics of this will say I want game's to hold my hand. And maybe I do. Because I've got other shit to do and if the game isn't going to respect my time by meeting me somewhere in the middle, it can stay on the store shelf. The only reason I made it as far as I did was because I had friends chiming in pretty much the whole way giving me pointers based on their much more extensive knowledge of the game.

Another example: I probably would never have realized I could talk to citizens at doors/windows with lanterns if somebody hadn't mentioned it early on.

I played a for a full 24-hours and I couldn't tell you a damn thing about what the Skill, Bloodtinge, or Arcane attributes do (hell I even had to Google "bloodborne level up screen" to identify "Bloodtinge"). The other attributes, Vitality, Endurance, and Strength were all straightforward enough and seemed to provide direct correlation to the things I needed the most: health, stamina, and damage, respectively, so I just dedicated pretty much all of my leveling to those three. But even that was unnecessarily complicated at first. Knowing the game tangentially, I easily remembered that the game kills you pretty early on to send you to the Hunter's Dream. What I had more or less forgotten was that I couldn't do anything there outside of buy Blood Vials and other assorted items until facing off against a boss for the first time. Meaning that the first couple hours were just a struggle to survive long enough to reach that checkpoint before I could even hope to increase my stats.

As people came and went throughout the stream, asking my impressions, I pretty much always boiled it down to this: for me, the reward and satisfaction of finally defeating a particularly challenging enemy or boss did not adequately outweigh the headaches and frustrations that led me there. Even after I "turned the corner" and was defeating bosses on the second (or even first attempt), I didn't have an innate sense of self-improvement so much as I felt I just started getting lucky. The strategy of like 90% of the game boiled down to rolling out of the way enough to avoid getting hit, healing when you do, and slowly chipping away at an opponent. In some cases, like Father Gascoigne, that strategy leaves you entirely subject to your surroundings as rolling into an unseen tombstone will turn a nearly-flawless attempt to failure in a split-second. In a more open environment like a giant cathedral against Vicar Amelia, I was able to use the same basic strategy and defeat it on my second attempt.

Even the things I enjoyed about the game initially became sour. Bloodborne is undoubtely a beautifully crafted world. But that world loses some of it's magic when you end up walking or running through the same corridor 20 or 30 times hoping this is the time where the boss doesn't kill you by connecting that seemingly one-hit instakill move. By late in my play session, I had long forgotten to enjoy some of the hauntingly beautiful scenery and resorted to running through all of the enemies I just didn't want to fight going from point A to point B.

Initially, I adored the character design too. The people were of a notably-Victorian aesthetic but disfigured in grotesque and interesting ways. The beasts were monstrous things, somewhat recognizable, but equally deformed into something unsettling. Until you just start seeing them all through a lens of anger and frustration as "cheap piece of shit Yharnamites" or "yet another furry beast-thing." By their very nature, once combat starts, it's nearly impossible to "admire" any of these things because taking the time to do so will almost certainly lead to your death.

The one element that belies these frustrations is the level design. The way the world continually folds back on itself with shortcuts unlocking to allow you to bypass entire areas once you've proven yourself worthy of making your way through them to open the door or pull the lever unveiling the shortcut is truly remarkable. It's an incredibly simple concept (there are two routes to a given point but one can only be accessed after going through the other route to unlock it) but it is executed so deftly that the moments unlocking a shortcut may have been even more rewarding than defeating a boss.

My experience here is undoubtedly colored by the fact that I binged the game. So my frustrations are certainly affected by the fact that I couldn't walk away, regroup, and come back fresh. Hell, the one time I really did take a break was to eat some pizza in the 2AM hour (9 hours in) after having been stuck on Father Gascoigne for the better part of five hours. I visited with friends in the chat to destress while I ate a couple slices and, when I came back, I beat him on the very next try. But I don't imagine playing this game (or one of the Souls games) drawn out over time would eliminate my core problems. I wouldn't have felt them in such concentrated doses, but they would still be there.

I have a first-hand understanding of the game now, but my personal reservations toward the game and its ilk remains largely unchanged. It's not my kind of thing and I'm unlikely to ever load the disc back into my PS4. I tend to fall more on the power fantasy/escapism side of things in the games I enjoy and my time as I've gotten older is increasingly precious to me. If that means, I'll turn to a game that holds my hand so I can enjoy it over one that asks more of me, so be it. The one experience that I've touched on multiple times here that I had not counted on was the helpfulness of the Soulsborne community. Everyone who stopped by the chat (even those who I didn't know and likely just found it as a random Bloodborne stream on Twitch) asked if I was open to pointers or help before offering it up. They went out of their way to be respectful if I had wanted to stay away from "spoilers" or play through the game pure. And multiple people offered to dust off their old save file and hop in to help me if I wanted it (with my stubbornness eventually falling away long enough for Tony to do just that. Angel attempted to as well but we couldn't seem to get our connections linked up). I have no doubt there are off-putting members of the community who could have just as easily popped in my stream to spam "GIT GUD" but I didn't encounter a single one in my 24-hours so regardless of my own personal feelings on the games, I applaud them for fostering that kind of culture in their own die-hard community.